I ran the San Francisco marathon

Yesterday, I ran in the San Francisco Marathon. What an experience!

But I’ll start telling this story from the beginning, which was the  end of 2012. This is when I signed up, marked my calendar and chose a training plan. February 11th was the first of many, many training days.

The training was pretty great. The first week didn’t feel hard, and  this probably planted a big seed of confidence early on. The continuing  weeks built up in the length of each training run, which in turn means  longer duration… and soon enough, I was spending more than an hour  running for practice. A few weeks later, it was going to even longer.

Important background detail of things also happening during this time: my BB love had a career change after realizing that some things are more important  than others.  She was in need of a student to practice teaching a new  subject: Yoga. I sometimes became that student, and I’ve really been  enjoying Yoga!

In some styles of Yoga, I find it possible to get a slice of  something that I can best describe as ” inner enlightenment”; being in  certain poses, focusing on my breathing and with my eyes closed, I  become aware of things that can only be seen without seeing.  Luckily for me, the Yoga that Kelly likes to teach does this for me, and  frequently. However, it probably also helps me that I’m in love with  this woman, and her smile alone makes me happy.

Anyway, I’ve been able to find that kind of trance-like state of mind  during running. It seems that somewhere after 45 minutes of running, my  brain finally lets my body be in auto-pilot to regulate my breath and  effort, and maintain a decent form… and then BAM, there I am: a clear  mind -and probably a creepy smile to all the people that see me run by.

I would often come home and talk to Kelly about all the things I  thought about while I ran, with a catchphrase that I thought about  myself: “You know… I was thinking… because I was running, right? And  when I run, I think, right? ( wait for acknowledgement> So, I  was thinking while I was running that…” and then something would come  out. Good ideas, things to talk about, different points of view on  things we’d already talked about… stuff that was interesting to talk  about, and all of that talking would make me feel closer to her.

I started to love running. How could I not, right? It was an outlet  of energy, an excuse to eat uncontrollably, a source of blocks to keep  building the relationship that I hold dearest, and also time to be  alone, outside and even unplugged at times.

I think that a big part of this training program -and probably that  of any program- was that it was sort of a snowball and it builds  momentum, and also kind of like an athletic version of How To Eat an Elephant.  I made the commitment way ahead of time, and the strategy was simple: I  would take 4 bites a week, and the last bite would be a big splash.

The last bite was indeed interesting.

I got to the start line with enough time to walk around and shake of  the nervousness. I was about 30th in line for the porta-potties with 25  minutes to go, and I decided that the chance to get locked out of my  corral was not worth the little pee I had to make.
The Marathon started, and things got going smoothly. Pretty soon I was  feeling pretty good! I was sticking to the pace-keeper for a 3:45 finish  along with about a hundred other hopefuls, with plenty of time to take  in the gorgeous sights as the sun rose.

About 50 minutes into the whole thing, I ran past one of the aid  stations, which had a line of 3 already for the porta-potties, and I  thought to myself “If I could just pee already, this would all be even  better!”. So it was without shame that I pulled over as soon as I saw a  suitable tree to hide behind on the side of the rail, and emptied my  bladder.

45 seconds later, I was a new man. I joined the human train of sweaty  faces huffin’ and puffin’ into the first hills, and aimed to catch the  3:45 leader who was now out of sight.

The course was fun during the first hour, and running on the Golden  Gate Bridge was pretty amazing. I enjoyed the view, the privilege of  running on the bridge itself (fun fact: it’s the only time of year that  this is legally possible!), the cool ocean breeze and the cheers of  encouragement from people that drove by. I also really enjoyed the  company of so many people that were doing the same as I was. Being one  of thousands, felt kind of like a pack, or a herd. Men and women of all  ages, sizes, shapes, religion and origins, all doing the same thing.

The first half of the San Francisco marathon is quite scenic. One of the last landmarks before going into Golden Gate Park is Baker Beach,  and then something more than just the landscape changes: supporting  locals come out. Some hold signs, some blast their stereos and dance on  the sidewalk, some poke their head from behind their front door as they  sip coffee in their bath robes.
To each and every one of those people being unofficial cheer volunteers: I noticed you, and I appreciate you!

The volunteers of the race were phenomenal. Most of them could be  classified as either young kids at the water stations, or some sort of  gnarly 50+ year old sportin’ leather and chillin’ next to their Harley  which was blocking a street or two. At each water station, there were at  least 2 super-enthusiastic volunteers who would go out of their way to  make sure no one missed water/gatorade if they needed it. I hope these  people were properly recognized with more than a souvenir T-shirt,  because they were super-duper-cool.

Back to the running story now: that good feeling faded, and by mile  14 I was starting to feel worrying discomforts in my legs. Then reality  sunk in: I hadn’t caught up to the 3:45 leader since that pee behind a  tree, and there had been a few more pees behind trees since that, too!

Novice wisdom I’d read and already knew about says that you should  make sure to not go too hard at the beginning, to pay no attention to  all the endorphins and to slow down. Turns out, that’s kind of hard to  do! Also and in retrospect, I wasn’t very good at going slower during  training either.
So, in the last 10 miles of the Marathon, I worked on finding exactly where that gear is between “boring slow” and “building heat“. If I could re-do my training, I’d make a bigger conscious effort to run in that gear.

Photo Credit: Dinno Kovic

After running through the Haight as I listened to some trance music  for motivation, I was in a mostly uncomfortable place. I took walk  breaks when coming into water stations, to make sure I’d gulp everything  down and stretch out calves and hamstrings.
This strategy got me to mile 23, and that’s when I felt like it was time to do as they say in the vernacular and dig deep. Another fascinating term about this practice that could also apply: HTFU.

I focused on my breath, my form, and put my headphones away. I knew I  could run the last 3 miles, and after doing some fuzzy math I figured  that I could still make a sub-4 hour finish… If I started going even a  bit faster.
Luckily, there were tons of cheer stations along the south-east portion  of the course, and they provided enough distraction from my body  complaining and wanting to quit.

Quickly reviewing the recent events, I realized I wasn’t really  enjoying myself. My inner dialogue became an argument about whether to  finish under a time limit or to enjoy the thing that I’d been excited  about for weeks.
That discussion came to an abrupt end when the finish line was within  sight. It looked like I was going to finish under 4 hours, and that  alone gave me a boost to also enjoy every second of  that moment that  lasted about 3 seconds.

After the finish line, I was quickly wrapped in a cool space blanket,  accosted by paparazzi and eating and drinking whatever was within  reach. It was probably during this time of of exhaustion, accomplishment  and enjoyment of delicious snacks that I managed to do what I’ve just  now discovered happened at some point: my activity was deleted from my  Garmin GPS wristwatch.

But that’s ok, Garmin. You can’t take my marathon away, because I did  it! Sure, I would have loved to see the pretty graphs that show my  speed, heart rate and elevation gain over time, I don’t need them.

Yesterday, I ran the San Francisco Marathon.